Retrofit of Suburbia
“Suburban sprawl, now the standard North America pattern of growth, ignores historical precedent and human experience. It is an invention, conceived by architects, engineers, and planners, and promoted by developers in the great sweeping aside of the old that occurred after the Second World War. Unlike the traditional neighborhood model, which evolved organically as a response to human needs, suburban sprawl is an idealized artificial system. It is not without a certain beauty: it is rational, consistent, and comprehensive. Its performance is largely predictable. It is an outgrowth of modern problem solving: a system for living. Unfortunately, this system is already showing itself to be unsustainable. Unlike the traditional neighborhood, sprawl is not healthy growth; it is essentially self destructive. Even at relatively low population densities, sprawl tends to pay for itself financially and consumes land at an alarming rate, while producing insurmountable traffic problems and exacerbating inequity and isolation.” (Duany, Plater-Zyberk, Speck; 4)
The Lowcountry Region was founded on the principles of traditional urbanism by a precedent set by settlements such as Charleston, Georgetown, Old Town of Bluffton, and Beaufort. These principles are typically found in a prevalent fashion today with the extension of the City of Charleston in a northward fashion connecting to the City of North Charleston, which echoes traditional urbanism in its original settlement areas combined with the suburban sprawl in those areas developed after WWII.
The suburbs of the Charleston Region, however, are much different. Aside from the first and second ring suburbs of the region, the remainder of the settlement is quintessential suburban sprawl dominated by housing subdivisions, shopping centers, office parks, and roadways. As our coastal region has grown over time, the overall density of the City has decrease significantly while consuming more and more land as development has sprawled across the landscape.
We can promote codes that abrogate existing zoning/development standards and promote suburban retrofits. “Retrofits” are projects that seek to improve the sustainability of the system as a whole. By seeking to create the basis for change beyond their immediate property lines, such projects offer the best chance to overcome entrenched resistance and help suburbs evolve to meet changing needs—for more simply, make them adaptable to future generations of population growth and demand.